The Loyola women’s soccer team (5-11-3, 2-4-0) and head coach Barry Bimbi had been there before. It was do-or-die time. Loyola and the University of Evansville were playing with both their seasons on the line. But it ended the same way the Ramblers’ 2015 season ended 361 days prior — with defeat.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Bimbi. “It’s just the game of soccer. It’s why we hate it and why we love it.”
Penalty kicks continue to haunt Loyola.
Last year, the Ramblers closed their season in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) championship when Evansville outshot Loyola 5-3 in penalty kicks after the two teams were scoreless through double overtime.
This season, the two faced off in the semifinals of the MVC tournament. With vengeance on their minds, Loyola tallied the first goal 20 minutes into the game when senior defender Shelby Koch connected with junior midfielder Avalon Senn-Raemont to put Loyola up 1-0.
Feeling confident, the Ramblers were able to hold off the Purple Aces. Sophomore goalkeeper Cassidy Lentz had four saves. But one slip-up in the second half tied the game at 1-1.
After ending the double overtime in a draw, the Ramblers and Purple Aces faced the same scenario that occurred last season: each team set aside five players to shoot in a five-round shootout.
Last season, Whitney Briggs, Evansville’s goalkeeper, was able to hold down the Purple Ace’s net. This season, Briggs slipped up and Loyola found itself even with Evansville at the end of five rounds. The two teams went to sudden death. In the ninth round, Ramblers defender Ashley Bovee fired a rocket, but Briggs’ gloves were too quick and sent the ball to the crossbar.
Soccer can be a cruel game sometimes, according to Bimbi, and this time it was cruel to the Ramblers. For the second year in a row, Loyola’s dream of an MVC title came crashing down after a penalty shootout defeat against Evansville.
Bimbi said although he was frustrated with the season’s outcome, he was still proud of his team.
“I think Friday was close to our best performance of the year. We controlled the pace of the game [and] created a lot of quality chances,” Bimbi said. “After 110 minutes, we couldn’t find a way to get a winner. Shootouts are always a crapshoot — there is luck involved, and unfortunately for the second year in a row, we came in the wrong end of it.”
The heartbreaking loss capped off Loyola’s overall rocky season. The Ramblers opened the season with eight straight winless games before starting conference play hot. They won two straight, but despite that streak they wrapped up conference play dropping the last four games.
Bimbi acknowledged the team’s slow start to the season but said it’s important to grow from that struggle.
“We had a rough early season with the tough schedule that we put together,” he said. “As the season went on, we got a little bit healthier. We stumbled at the beginning, but it was the talent and character of the group that lifted us up.”
Defense was the the Ramblers’ demise. Holes in the team’s backfield put Loyola’s goalkeepers in a tough position. Lentz and junior Maddie Ford, Loyola’s goalkeepers, had a combined 107 saves this season and let up 31 goals. Both goalkeepers had a 78 percent save average, which was similar to last season’s save average percentage, and higher than the 72 percent save average of MVC opponents.
The offense didn’t help much, either. Loyola’s opponents were only forced to make 57 saves this season. Although the Ramblers’ offense didn’t put a lot of pressure on the opponent’s defenses, the attack was efficient. On 79 shots on goal, the Ramblers managed to score 22 times.
This season, 12 Ramblers tallied goals for Loyola, while last season, only nine did. Junior forward Katie Grall led the Ramblers’ offense with three goals and a team-high six assists. Senn-Raemont was the team’s leading scorer with four goals.
Loyola will say farewell to six seniors this season, including midfielder Ciara Murray, who scored a hat trick on senior night. Koch was a four-year starter and will leave Loyola with four goals and 11 assists. Bovee consistently developed as a defender while at Loyola, tallying four goals and one assist as a Rambler.
The MVC awarded Koch and Senn-Raemont all-tournament team honors.
As for the future of the program, Bimbi said he is optimistic and believes the team has young talent that needs to be developed.
“I think the future is bright for sure,” he said. “We have a lot of talented players. We are going to work hard in the offseason. And our goal is to be playing … in the conference tournament [next year] and lift the big trophy.”